Sunday, July 9, 2017

Blood Draws and Vaccinations at White Oak

Name: Samantha Bonifas
Class Year: 2018
Hometown: Delphos, Ohio
Internship: Wildlife Conservation Intern
Location: White Oak Conservation Center (Yulee, Florida)

   Here at White Oak the health of the animals is a very important. Routine checkups are done regularly to monitor the health of animals. Since White Oak focuses on natural social groups in large pastures traditional training is difficult. In this post I will discuss the different management techniques used for collecting blood and giving vaccines to rhinos.
   First I’ll go over blood draws. Blood is collected for numerous reasons, the most common being for routine checkups to make sure nothing is abnormal in the blood work. Another reason blood is collected is determine is a rhino is pregnant, since the rhinos are not trained for internal ultrasounds (rhinos have too much body mass for external ultrasounds to be effective). First the keepers work to desensitize the rhinos to needles, by using a blunt object like a pen or paperclip to poke ears and legs on the rhinos. To get blood from a rhino we first have to line them up parallel to the fence. Rhinos are fed during the blood draw to keep them stationary. For white rhinos alfalfa is used as a treat, but for black and Indian rhino fruit such as apples, bananas, and carrots are used. After getting the rhinos attention with a treat the keepers will line the rhinos up against the fence so they can reach the blood draw sites safely. The keepers will try to get blood from two areas, either the ear or the leg. Blood is then put into a tube and sent to the lab for testing. During blood collection keepers take the time to do up close visual checks on the rhinos. They will check eyes, ears, feet, and folds of skin to make sure everything is normal.
   Vaccines are done once a year on all the rhinos. Vaccinating rhinos is a little trickier than collecting blood. Keepers line the rhinos up the same as they would for blood draws. Each animal receives 4 vaccines, each with its own injection point. Each armpit receives an injection and each side of the neck also gets an injection. Since each vaccine has its own injection point keepers can later look for skin irritation or bumps to keep track of whether a vaccine has caused a reaction for the rhino. Some of the rhinos at White Oak are more skittish and not comfortable around people. For these individuals vets use a technique called “standing sedation” where the rhinos are given a small amount of sedative. Just enough sedative is given to the rhino to keep them calm; they are still awake and can still stand on their own. This technique is used because rhinos can injure themselves or staff if they run away during an injection. After all of the injections are given the rhino are given a reversal drug that reverses the effects of the sedative. The keepers keep a close eye on the rhino to make sure they recover well. There are only a few individuals that require standing sedations and keepers continue to work with these animals in the hopes of conditioning them for voluntary vaccinations in the future.

One of the rhino keepers preparing a white rhino for a blood draw.

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